NTUA officials: Over 2,300 water lines have been repaired
By Noel Lyn Smith
FORT DEFIANCE, Ariz., February 14, 2013
(Times Photo – Donovan Quintero)
P rogress continues to be made in repairing waterlines that were damaged after temperatures fell below zero across the Navajo Nation.
On Tuesday, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Deputy General Manager Rex Kontz said crews have completed 2,394 repairs while 1,050 reported problems still need to be addressed but repairs should be completed by the end of the month.
The highest number of reported outages continues to be from the Fort Defiance district but enough progress has been made that Kontz decided to lift the restriction on water usage by laundromats and car washes in the area.
There continues to be 111 reported outages that need assessment in the Crownpoint district, which composes the chapters south of Gallup, chapters located along Interstate 40 and State Highway 371, and east to Pueblo Pintado and Torreon chapters.
Engineering staff from Indian Health Service is assisting NTUA with completing assessments in the Crownpoint district and that should be completed shortly, he said.
Meanwhile, service has been fully restored in the Shiprock district while repairs in the Dilkon district are close to completion, and four repairs need to be completed in the Tuba City district, he said.
"The first goal was getting water back," he said then added that crews would return in the spring to complete permanent repairs on some of the pipelines.
During last week's report to the tribe's emergency management team, Kontz said a wash completely froze over a waterline in Jeddito Chapter but it has since thawed and water service has returned to the area.
"In that case, lucky, the pipe wasn't damage. It held up even though it had frozen," he said.
The experience of the last few weeks was unusual, he said, and it has called attention to the aging pipelines and ways to improve those outlets.
"We're probably have to rethink our maintenance program and what we could do to try to keep a better handle on it," he said. "Our difficulty is it's so widespread out here."
There are 1,000 miles of pipeline and having personnel drive along every inch of the system is "extensive," he said.
"Going forward, how do you reengineer your whole system to not do that?" Kontz said. "You can say, 'OK, from now on we'll bury all our pipes five feet deep' but that takes care of stuff that being put in the ground new, it doesn't take care of your existing system."
In the meantime, the 15 crews from NTUA and eight crews from Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority continue to repair waterlines across the Navajo Nation.
On Feb. 7, two four-man crews from the Water Construction and Maintenance group at Salt River Project left the company's headquarters in Tempe, Ariz. with six trucks and two trailers carrying large excavation and trenching equipment.
Since arriving, the crews have been working in the Fort Defiance area and have assisted in restoring water service to approximately 60 homes.
"Things are going well," Jeff Lane with SRP Media Relations said then added that the crews may return to Tempe during the early part of next week.
So far NTUA has been covering the cost of the repairs and crews salaries by using the set aside of $1 million that is part of its emergency contingency plan.
Kontz said that $690,000 has been spent and if the emergency fund were exhausted, the next step would be to tap into NTUA's general operating fund.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 9 reviewed the situation last week and recommended $4.3 million in assistance be granted.
The recommendation now waits President Barack Obama's approval and the reimbursement process could take up to two years, he said.
In other developments, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency in McKinley, San Juan, Cibola, Socorro and Valencia counties through a Feb. 8 executive order.
"This emergency is of such magnitude as to be beyond local control and requires the resources of the state to avoid or minimize economic or physical harm and to take action necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare," the executive order stated.
Martinez directed that $100,000 be given to the state's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to help with assistance and authorized the support of the New Mexico National Guard.
Kontz said the New Mexico National Guard deployed two water tankers and five water tankers from the Arizona State Forestry Division have been providing service to the chapters of Cottonwood-Tselani, Blue Gap, Chichiltah, Lower Greasewood, Sawmill, Navajo, St. Michaels, and Mexican Hat.
The Arizona State Forestry Division tankers were scheduled to end its assistance Wednesday unless NTUA can pay for further services and the tankers from the New Mexico National Guard has an agreement with the tribe's emergency management department to provide service until the end of March.
"We do continue to provide bottled water to customers who we know are affected," Kontz said.